Let me start off by saying, breast cancer does not run in my family.
2014 was a tough year and I’ll never forget it. After having a miscarriage, I decided I wanted to get back into really good shape. A month later, I was showering post-workout when I felt a lump in my right breast. I figured it was no big deal since my hormones were still balancing back out but I decided to have my general practitioner examine me anyway. Besides, I already had an appointment scheduled.
The day of the appointment, I had my doctor perform a breast exam and, sure enough, she felt the lump. She scheduled me for an ultrasound the next day and, after the ultrasound, I only had to wait a few hours before they called. I was told I needed to have a diagnostic mammogram and, possibly, a biopsy. My heart felt like it was in my throat but I stayed positive and scheduled the mammogram.
The breast specialist I saw was a grim woman with no bedside manner. She told me the ultrasound images were concerning then sent me for my mammogram. Once it was over, the doctor came back in — even more grim-faced than before. I needed to go to the hospital and have the lump biopsied immediately.
I felt like my world was crashing down. I went for the biopsy and the radiologist said she was pretty sure it was ductal carcinoma in situ (stage 0 breast cancer), although I wouldn’t have the official results for three days.
Three days felt like forever, but the pathology results finally came. It was breast cancer and it was aggressive. I was devastated but ready to form a plan of action.
So, I chose my team of doctors and scheduled my mastectomy. Surgery day came and I felt really good about my decision. I was surrounded by passionate and vigilant doctors and was happy to have a plan after so much waiting and uncertainty.
I had a little more waiting to do for the final pathology results, but we finally got good news. The cancer was limited to the right breast and my lymph nodes were clean. They did upgrade me from Stage 0 to Stage 1 but I didn’t need chemo.
Then, my oncologist decided to have my tissue looked at by the hospital where he is a fellow. It’s a good thing he did because they found a lot of things that were missed by the pathologists at the hospital where my surgery was performed. The most important being a particular trait of my cancer that had the potential to be very dangerous. Because of this, my doctor recommended chemo.
Chemo. The one thing I didn’t want to do. I was willing to give up my breasts but not my hair. I got over the shock pretty quickly and, soon enough, was ready to start — but not before we did some fertility preservation.
Fertility preservation entails lots of doctor’s appointments for you and your hubby, lots of blood work, lots of hormones, and a class to learn how to administer those hormones.
On the day of my class, I took a LOT of notes and left with a shopping bag full of hormones. They promised to call when it was time to start the regimen. I got the call that afternoon. I was four weeks pregnant! I was over the moon and so were my doctors. I had their blessing to have my baby and we agreed to start chemo once he was born.
So, nine months came and went and my beautiful baby boy arrived. A few weeks later, I started chemo. It was rough but I got through it the same way I got through the diagnosis and surgery — with lots of amazing family and friends by my side.
Treatment wrapped up in August 2015 and, not long after, I had my reconstructive surgery in what finally felt like the end of a very long journey.
So what would my advice be to you? Find a great doctor, don’t miss your yearly exam, and know your body. If something doesn’t seem right, talk to your doctor. Don’t wait!
Early detection is so important and so is being educated about your risk and your body. Without early detection, I’m not sure I’d be here today.
What Bright Pink does and stands for inspired me to run this year’s Chicago Half Marathon for Team Bright Pink. And now, thanks to running, I’m on the path to being healthier and happier than I’ve been in a long time.
Chiara is sharing her story in the hopes that it will help other women understand the importance of breast and ovarian cancer prevention and early detection. Help us bring her message to women across the country — just $20 has the power to teach 4 women early detection through our in-person Brighten Up workshop. Donate to help us educate and empower more young women like Chiara.